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Recently, I met with my friends for a glass of wine and a swim in the Lake of Zurich. It was a lovely Sunday and we enjoyed our day off. Summer had finally begun and a long period of rain had stopped. We talked about how nice it is to be able to live in such beautiful surroundings and that we were lucky with the good weather over the weekend. When the conversation changed towards work, one of my friends mentioned that it was so hard to find junior staff. My friend wished for candidates who do not feel entitled, do not claim an outrageous salary and who do not demand to be in a senior position within 5 years. Let them first prove themselves, she said, just like we had to. It was such a contrast with how we were brought up and educated, as well as what our experience thought us, we agreed.
Both academic and popular literature have repeatedly contended that emerging adults are the most narcissistic and entitled age-group in modern times. Although this contention is debated, the message that emerging adults are narcissistic and entitled, has saturated popular culture (Grubbs et al., 2019).
Most of my friends and I are all born between 1970 and 1980, went through university and worked very hard to get to where we are now. We are grateful for a high level of women participating in the workforce, as well as childcare, allowing for double income households. We experience a healthy work-life balance, and the financial freedom to travel from time to time and enjoy a good glass of wine.
The findings of a study by the Metlife Mature Market Institute (2015) would allocate my friends and I to Generation X in its midlife, describing us as active, happy, and achieving a work–life balance. However, this does not mean that we live the perfect life, are the example to future generations, and know what is right. It is not how Stein (2013) cynically asserts it: “I am about to do what old people have done throughout history: call those younger than me lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow. But I have studies! I have statistics! I have quotes from respected academics! Unlike my parents, my grandparents and my great-grandparents, I have proof!”
When the conversation progressed, we tried to understand why the younger generations demonstrate such a strong sense of entitlement and behave so narcissistically. Is it the importance of social identity, the addiction to ‘likes’ which may reinforce their entitlement and narcissistic behaviour? Or their disconnection from what is needed to secure a certain lifestyle, the lifestyle a few glamorous social media influencers portray as the must-have lifestyle – but unachievable to most of us?
We realised that we only focused on the surface and not what really lies underneath this observed behaviour. A few interesting points were raised to give these generations some credit for their alleged entitlement and narcissistic behaviour; the points were mainly referred to as defence mechanisms from an economical perspective. For instance, safety nets such as pensions and job security do not exist anymore for younger generations, as they did for older generations; perhaps younger generation want to create their own safety by demanding more upfront, to have more security about their own foreseeable future. Another point that was raised, was the high debts the younger generations face and that they need an adequate income level to pay off these debts.
On my way home, the conversation stuck to my mind. I was not convinced that the causes for a possible increase in narcissistic behaviour and sense of entitlement of younger generations could only be attributed to financial worries. We are considered living in more prosperity than ever before. There must be more. I am aware that there is a significant rise in mental health issues among adolescents. According to research published by the American Psychological Association, the percentage of young Americans experiencing certain types of mental health disorders has risen significantly over the past decade, with no corresponding increase in older adults (Twenge, 2019).
Is this perceived increase in narcissistic behaviour and the sense of entitlement among adolescents caused by the rise in mental health disorders? And when this behaviour is expressed not only online in social media, like Instagram and Facebook, but also on the work floor, is my friend’s – and probably many senior people’s – wish for less entitled junior staff, a wish in vain? If the rise of mental health issues and the possible subsequent narcissistic behaviour and sense of entitlement among younger generations becomes a significant factor in hiring, motivating and retaining people, what is the impact on companies?
In this essay I want to address whether there is an increase in narcissistic behaviour and entitlement of Generation Y (millennial) born between 1980 and 1994, and what the underlying causes for such a possible rise could be, in particular with respect to parenting and institutional factors, however excluding political instability and technological factors, such as social media use. Further, I will discuss how domination of narcissistic behaviour and sense of entitlement could unfold in the workplace in a worst-case scenario, and how companies could respond to an increase in narcissistic behaviour and a strong sense of entitlement of Generation Y.
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